If you are intrigued by the ways that experiencing more gratitude might positively impact your life, join the growing crowd; research continues to establish the beneficial effects that feelings of gratitude can have on physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.
With advantages ranging from increased heart function, immune responsiveness, generosity, deep sleep, and relationship satisfaction to decreased stress levels, depression, and anxiety, discovering gratitude can be like finding the holy grail of well-being. There is little doubt that it is good medicine. And even if you retain tinges of doubt, gratitude is one of those remedies definitely worth trying out — its side effects promise to leave you feeling better.
Benedictine monk Br. David Steindl-Rast suggests that two qualities belong in our basic definition of gratitude. The first is appreciation: You recognize that something is valuable to you, without consideration of its monetary worth. The second quality Br. David mentions is that gratitude is a response to something freely given to you — gratis.
Leading gratitude researcher Robert Emmons writes that gratitude can be understood as “a cognitive-affective state that is typically associated with the perception that one has received a personal benefit that was not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but rather because of the good intentions of another person.”
So, what is gratitude? In common parlance, gratitude is a feeling we experience in response to something good happening, most typically toward someone for giving us something we wanted. This is the basic definition we are taught and come to understand as we grow up. We learn about gratitude as an emotion (or sometimes a social convention) which moves us to want to say, “thank you.”
- Eight Ways Gratitude Boosts Happiness
- Video: The Power of Gratitude
- Is Gratitude the Path to a Better World? Interview with Br. David
Drawbacks of Gratitude
The challenge with gratitude as we understand it is that it is highly dependent on conditions being just right. And because it depends on both favorable external circumstances and an internal disposition to greet them, gratitude is simply not sustainable in the face of how life tends to unfold. It is a fleeting proposition. If you feel grateful when you get the ideal gift, or when the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, or when you hit a string of green lights on your commute home…anything other than that is not likely to do the trick. And if you only truly feel grateful when you are healthy, your mood is bright, your relationships are all working well, and the world within and around you is at peace, the benefits of gratitude will surely be beyond reach.
“It can be relatively easy to hold an ‘attitude of gratitude’ when we have what we need, get what we want, and inventory happy occurrences in our journals at the end of a day. It is quite another proposition to still feel grateful when life brings us and others circumstances none of us would willingly choose,” Kristi Nelson writes.
From Gratitude to Grateful Living
Gratefulness is a “state” or quality of being grateful that can provide you a deeper, more unconditional, and robust experience of gratitude. It is not dependent on external circumstances, and it isn’t positive thinking or spiritual bypassing. Grateful Living — the daily practice of gratefulness — is a way of being that expands your capacity for a grateful perspective, no matter what happens.
Continue your journey with the next article in this series: What is the Difference Between Gratitude and Grateful Living?
Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya